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Miller v. Hall Building Corp.

Decided: December 13, 1985.

RICKEY L. MILLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HALL BUILDING CORP., DEFENDANT/THIRD PARTY PLAINTIFF, V. BEE GEE MASONRY, INC., THIRD PARTY DEFENDANT AND DEFENDANT/THIRD PARTY PLAINTIFF, V. RAYMOND INTERNATIONAL, THIRD PARTY DEFENDANT



Milberg, A.j.s.c.

Milberg

Third-party defendant Bee Gee Masonry, Inc. seeks an Order for Summary Judgment on the grounds that defendant Hall Building Corporation's claims for contribution and indemnification are barred by statute and common law.

This action involves a claim for personal injuries sustained by plaintiff Rickey L. Miller on October 20, 1982 when he fell through an open skylight on the roof of a building under construction at the Earle Naval Weapons Station in Colts Neck, New Jersey.

At that time plaintiff was employed as a laborer by Bee Gee Masonry, Inc. Bee Gee had been hired by defendant Hall Building Corporation to perform the masonry work in connection with the construction of the building in question under an agreement executed on March 29, 1982.

Plaintiff brought a worker's compensation claim against Bee Gee and, on July 10, 1984, an Order of Judgment was entered awarding benefits to plaintiff under the Worker's Compensation Act.

On September 10, 1984, plaintiff commenced this action against Hall Building Corporation; Hall, in turn, filed a third-party complaint against Bee Gee asserting claims for contribution, common-law indemnification and contractual indemnification.

Bee Gee now seeks summary judgment dismissing Hall's contribution claim on the ground that it is barred due to plaintiff's recovery of worker's compensation benefits; dismissing the common-law indemnification claim on the ground that Hall was actually liable; and dismissing the claim for contractual indemnification on the ground that the indemnity clause in the contract is unenforceable under N.J.S.A. 2A:40A-1, as that section existed at the time the contract was executed in 1982.

In opposition to the motion, Hall asserts that the indemnity clause is enforceable under N.J.S.A. 2A:40A-1 as it is presently written, and urges that the present section be given retroactive effect.

The facts are not in dispute. The sole question is whether Bee Gee Masonry is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.

It is well settled that a defendant in a tort action brought by an employee may not join the employer as a third-party defendant in order to seek contribution from him as a joint tortfeasor. See Public Service Electric & Gas Co. v. Waldroup, 38 N.J. Super. 419, 437 (App.Div.1955); Arcell v. Ashland Chemical Co., 152 N.J. Super. 471, 483-484 (Law Div.1977). To allow such a third-party claim would effectively hold the employer liable to the employee for negligence, which is expressly prohibited by the Worker's Compensation Act. Id. at 484.

For the same reason, a third party is not entitled to implied indemnification from the employer, Id. at 488-489 unless there exists a "special legal relationship" between the parties. See Hagen v. Koerner, 64 N.J. Super. 580 (App.Div.1960). The contractual relationship between the parties is not enough, in itself, to establish the type of relationship from which an implied obligation to indemnify might arise. See Arcell, supra, 152 N.J. Super. at 490.

In any event, it is clear that Hall, as the general contractor, had the primary responsibility for ...


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